Ofqual: No more leniency for higher tier GCSE grade boundaries

Ofqual has told teachers to think carefully about which tier they enter pupils for in GCSE exams and warned that last year’s “exceptional” leniency around grade boundaries will no longer exist.

A series of three open letters from Sally Collier (pictured), Ofqual’s chief regulator, have reiterated to schools the arrangements for grading higher tier GCSEs in combined science and modern foreign languages.

Last summer was the first time these exams were taken under the new specification, and so allowances were made for pupils who achieved lower than expected grades on higher tier papers.

Collier said the decision to allow some pupils to receive the grade 3-3 on the higher tier combined science paper “was exceptional and will not be permitted in summer 2019”. Around a third of schools had some higher tier pupils who were awarded the 3-3 grade last summer.

The higher tier combined science paper is supposed to only include the grades 4-4 through to 9-9, with a small proportion who “just miss” the lower grade being allowed a “safety net grade” of 4-3 and all others receiving an “unclassified” result.

She also clarified that a “narrow safety net grade 3 for students who just miss a grade 4” in higher tier modern foreign languages would be set at half a grade, and anyone who achieves lower marks will receive an “unclassified” result “as per our existing rules”.

Collier has also warned against advice from “third-party organisations” which recommend that pupils predicted to achieve around a 4 in both subjects should be entered for the higher tier exam.

“I would caution you against following that advice, as such students are at risk of missing out on two GCSE grades (for combined science),” she wrote, or one GCSE for modern foreign languages.

In July, Ofqual warned that pupils aiming for a grade four at GCSE – a ‘standard’ pass and the equivalent of the old C grade – should only be entered for foundation tier exam papers.

However, in August the regulator confirmed it had dropped the pass threshold for GCSE science higher tier exams to 3-3 after concern from exam boards that “there were more students than expecting getting an unclassified result on higher tier combined science”.

In November, the exams regulator confirmed it would not be making any changes to the grade boundaries for A-level sciences or modern foreign languages, after an investigation found there was no “strong evidence” to suggest the subjects were too harshly marked.